“I know,” he said, taking it out of her hand and putting it on the counter. “It's okay.” She wiped at her eyes, impatiently. Then she said, “I hate that I let her do this to me. It's so dysfunctional.”
“It's not your fault,” Dave said as Corinna closed her eyes, leaning her face against his chest, and I felt bad for watching, turning my attention to the Brady Bunch rerun on the TV. I wondered again if this was what Cass's life was like with Adam in New York. I hoped so. Even if she was struggling and living off Ramen-?noodle soup, it seemed perfect to be in this kind of love. Corinna was still crying, even as Dave kissed her forehead and smiled, taking one of her hands and twirling her around the small, paint-?peeling kitchen. “Stop,” she said, half-?laughing as he dipped her over the garbage can. “David, honestly.” He was humming something, a song I didn't know, as he twirled her out, then pulled her back, scooping an arm around her waist, and led her into an exaggerated tango, both of them stepping expertly over the dog bowl. “You're crazy,” she said, but now she was smiling. Outside the window over my shoulder it was winter, flat and gray. But in the kitchen, under the warm bulb light, they were still dancing, laughing, twirling across the tiny floor while those silver bracelets jingled, making music all their own.
My mother was still buying dolls and glued to the Lamont Whipper Show daily, where she caught glimpses of Cass every once in a while. Adam, however, she saw every day, since at least one fistfight or hair pulling incident occurred on each show. He was always bounding onstage, grabbing wives off their cheating husbands or separating angry drag queens while the crowd roared in the background. She was also writing Cass each week, and although she hadn't heard back yet, there'd been four hang-?ups so far on our phone, all coming during the official O'Koren dinnertime: six to six-?thirty. My mother would throw down her napkin and run to grab the phone, then stand there saying hello again and again, her fingers gripping white around the receiver, before finally replacing it and walking slowly back to the table. She'd sit down, not saying anything, while my father and I watched her, the only sound the scraping of forks against plates. “Margaret,” my father would say, finally. “It's probably just some long-?distance company”
“She almost said something that time,” my mother would blurt out. “I could hear her breathing. She wants to talk to me. I can feel it.” This was probably true. Cass had always been easily homesick. Even when we went to camp as teenagers she'd bawled at the bus station. I knew the only reason she hadn't gotten in touch so far was just because she was afraid my parents would somehow force her to come home. Even as I imagined her making Hamburger Helper without the hamburger with Adam in New York, being madly in love, I knew my sister, and I was sure she missed us. On Saturday afternoons, I went to the Arts Center with my mother and Boo for photography class. I'd regretted agreeing to it almost instantly mostly because between cheering and school I didn't see Rogerson as much as I wanted, to begin withbut in time I found that I actually liked the class. The instructor was a young, energetic photographer named Matthew, who sported a scraggly goatee, as well as a seemingly endless number of tattered wool sweaters. He gestured excitedly, eyes sparkling, as he guided us through the first few discussions on light, focus, perspective, and setting. Then he just set us loose in different placesTopper Lake, the old graveyard, the supermarket encouraging us to “create our own personal vision” of each. At the supermarket, for instance, my mother spent the full hour in the floral section, trying to get the perfect shot of the rows of cut flower bins, while Boo went for the abstract, selecting a round, bright, yellow squash and arranging it on the meat counter, right next to a freshly cut set of bloody steaks. “Contrast,” Matthew proclaimed excitedly, as she circled the meat with her camera, getting it from every angle. “Make us think about your meaning!” I myself was sorely lacking for inspiration. I contemplated the rows of milk bottles white, smooth, coldbut moved on when I saw two people from our class already there, taking identical pictures from the same angle. Should I do the bored lobsters in their tank? Seek deep introspection in the cheese aisle? I was beginning to lose hope. “Five minutes, people!” Matthew called out as he passed me. “We'll regroup by customer service, okay?” Five minutes. I was getting desperate and had decided to go back to the milk when I walked past the frozen foods. It was empty except for an elderly woman with her cart, who was pulling a door open to get out a frozen dinner. She was small and frail, with skin almost translucent and made whiter by the bright fluorescent lights overhead. I started up the aisle toward her, popping the lens cap off my camera, already lifting it to my eye and adjusting the zoom so that her profile took up the entire frame. Then she leaned in, reaching forward, and as her breath came out in a sudden, small white puff, she closed her eyes, reacting to the cold. I snapped the picture, catching her in that one instant with a simple click. The next week, when we did our developing, I stood and watched as her image emerged in front of me:
distinct, perfect, in all that cool white. Matthew held it up for the class to see and congratulated me on my “sense of face.” For me, it was the first thing I'd done in a long time that I was truly proud of, so much so that I hung it on my mirror, replacing my second-?place ribbons and B honor roll certificates. But even as I was doing well in photography, things were going from bad to worse in my cheerleading career. Choosing Rogerson over Mike Evans had been the beginning of the end, but now I was so busy with him that I just didn't have the energy for pyramids and dance routines anymore. This was added to the fact that Corinna's was about a mile from school, so I often headed there for the half hour between last period and practice. Corinna was usually in her Applebee's uniform, lazily putting on her makeup and various sizzzzzle steaks! and ask me about superchocolatesundaes! buttons. I'd throw down my backpack and take my place on the couch, where we'd share a bowl, smoke some cigarettes (I was buying my own packs now), and watch General Hospital, some sleazy talk show, or another infomercial. This, of course, usually made me lose any motivation I had for cheerleading. If I even made it to practice afterward and increasingly, I didn'tI was usually so tired and lazy it was all I could do to go through the motions. The only thing worthwhile about practice was that I got to see Rina, who was currently embroiled in one of her trademark mucky love triangles. This one involved her quarterback, Bill Skerrit, a nice aw-?shucks kind of guy who honestly believed he and Rina were going to get married, and the college-?boy shoe salesman, Jeff, who Rina had met a month earlier when she'd gone to return a pair of platform sandals.